TSE MAG 26 - Think of the children

April 22, 2024 Environment

This article was published in TSE science magazine, TSE Mag. It is part of the Spring 2024 issue, dedicated to “Climate Revolution”. Discover the full PDF here and email us for a printed copy or your feedback on the mag, there.

To build resilient and sustainable communities, we need a comprehensive approach that considers social, economic and environmental dimensions. Growth can play a role, yes, but what kind? Economics can provide answers because it isn’t limited to the study of monetary and financial concerns, it's also curious about society and behavior. Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST) Ingela Alger has added a new role as Chair of the TSE Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. She argues that success in the climate struggle will require citizens to make choices based on empathy for each other and future generations. 

Empathy for future generations

“In the light of climate change and biodiversity loss, it’s useful to consider two stark future scenarios. In the first, we continue to live and consume as we do today. In the second, we drastically reduce consumption of non-essential goods to redirect resources towards reducing our overall carbon and ecological footprints.  

Ultimately, the question is not whether we can combine economic growth and an ecologically sound society, but which kind of society we wish to build for current and future generations.  

Behavioral drivers such as empathy may be fundamental for major transitions to occur. Without empathy for people who are particularly exposed to climate change and climate policies, such as carbon taxes, we run the risk of reinforcing the already palpable divide between the big losers of climate change and those who are not much affected. Think, for example, of France’s “Yellow Vests” crisis which flared up in 2018. Young people are particularly at risk: let's think about them and the conditions in which they will have to evolve.  

Empathy is really part of the solution. To think of society through the prism of growth, yes, but above all a growth in environmentally responsible behavior, a growth in empathy, and a growth in environmentally sound investments. That's where our power to change things lies.” 

Studying human complexity

Ingela has lead IAST since 2021. Originally imagined by Jean Tirole in 2011, this social science research center builds bridges between disciplines and brings together experts from different, but complementary fields. The success of the IAST community led to the creation of TSE's Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences in January last year. 

“Economists used to think of the human being as someone who sought only material well-being, but Homo sapiens is not this Homo economicus,” says Ingela. “At IAST and in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, we study the full complexity of human motivations, including morality, social norms, religious beliefs, cultural and institutional adaptations. Our economists collaborate with anthropologists, biologists, historians, psychologists, political scientists, and sociologists to achieve a holistic understanding of human behavior.” 


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